Our last dive day in Cambridge Bay, and we finally got out with John, our now-rested guide and boat driver. His boat, Ugyuk, (bearded seal, in Inuktitut) is a roomy and solidly built aluminum work boat, perfectly suited for local diving. John is an invaluable asset to have on the team, and provided us all with a sense of security while we were in the water. The dive, although not as impressive as those of the day before, still provided us with much to document. As always, the galaxy of jellies swirled around us as we swam along the rubble slope. Wedged in among the large rocks were a number of small, white sea cucumbers, waving their delicate feeding arms through the crystal clear water. Large anemones stationed on the tops of boulders stood watch for passing fish as shrimp scavenged around their bases. The water temperature hovered around one degree Celsius; our next dive in British Columbia is going to feel like a dive in the tropics.

Diving in the Arctic

A diverse but chilly landscape diving beneath the Arctic Ocean.

Then it was time to pack up. The afternoon and evening were spent carefully packing a selection of specimens for shipment back to the Vancouver Aquarium, disassembling the animal holding system and repacking equipment that is to remain behind in the shipping container, ready for the next trip. Dive equipment was dried and stowed in gear bags, and personal gear was rounded up for the trip home. We were somewhat anxious about the reception our 16 pieces of checked luggage (including nine large coolers) would receive at the check-in counter, however, all went well.

Vancouver Aquarium Arctic research

Specimens need to be packed up for proper shipping back to Vancouver.

As we waited at the airport for our flight to Yellowknife, we discussed the numerous scientific projects happening in Cambridge Bay. POLAR is building the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, which is certain to become an invaluable hub for supporting science for decades to come. The Arctic Research Foundation, with its ship the Martin Bergmann offers a versatile platform for ocean-based science. Ocean Networks Canada has set up remote sampling and monitoring equipment providing researchers around the world with valuable real-time data.

Arctic science and research

The Martin Bergmann enables ocean-based science in Cambridge Bay.

Parks Canada uses Cambridge Bay as a jumping off point for its archaeological studies of the HMS Erebus. We also participated in several community outreach programs including a sea creature “show and tell” at the Elder’s Palace, where local residents were invited to see and touch a number of ocean critters and watch a slideshow documenting even more. As well, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and POLAR staff members visited schools in town and introduced the students to many animals they had never seen before.

Diving in the Arctic

Ocean Networks Canada replaces an underwater monitoring platform that was being used by scientific divers in Cambridge Bay.

Despite some challenges, we all agreed that the first joint POLAR and Vancouver Aquarium Nearshore Ecological Survey was a success. It will provide a wealth of documentation and imagery from a number of potentially important sites in the Cambridge Bay area, and lays the groundwork for future surveys. We identified a number of other dive sites of interest, streamlined logistics and made a number of crucial contacts. Although we are all looking forward to getting home, it will be hard to leave this intriguing Arctic hamlet.

This summer, scientists from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre head north for innovative Arctic research projects both below and above the ocean’s surface in collaboration with Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), the new federal agency responsible for advancing Canada’s knowledge of the Arctic and for strengthening Canadian leadership in polar science and technology. This is the fourth in a series of posts.

Blog post by Jeremy Heywood, diving safety officer for the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

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